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5 Ways I Connect Bowling to My Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I drove past a bowing alley this week and couldn’t help, for whatever reason, but connect it to recovery. I know, I know, what am I talking about? Stay with me — I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

Having a tangible representation of the recovery process creates a bullet point plan to use as reference. When I lose direction or start to feel the struggle to even know where to begin, I can pull it out and use it as my map to formulate my next move.

How does a bowling alley enter, you ask? Let me explain:

1. Turning motivation into action.

If I wanted to go bowling would I drive to the alley and stand outside the doors thinking about how much I wanted to bowl? I’ve never done it that way. Yet, when facing recovery I spend an inordinate amount of time wishing for recovery but stop right there.

The bowling alley isn’t going to come outside and bring a lane to me any more than I can expect to fall into recovery with only a wish. The desire to go inside has to be followed up with the action of opening the front doors. Otherwise, I’ll always be stuck outside peering through the window watching everyone else play. Recovery life requires action, or or else I’m just a witness to it passing me by.

For me to decide I want recovery, I have to take all my motivation, my wishes and hopes of what could be, and back it with an action. The biggest action is eating and finding my support to keep eating.

Probably not what you wanted to hear, I didn’t want to either. As much as I wanted to deny it, that first step in recovery is actually a bite. Motivation fueling action armed with a fork.

2. All in.

I’ve watched a lot of people bowl and have played a few frames myself. I’ve never seen anymore pick up a ball and just stick one finger in the grips. Why? Because the expectation that the ball can’t be supported is a guarantee, right? I’d drop it, probably on my own feet, before I took a step toward the lane.

Recovery is the same. I can’t decide to participate in parts of it and expect it to work. I can’t hold on to rules or behaviors and be able to support recovery.

Full recovery requires full support.

3. Weight restoration is not the end of your work.

When I hit the daunting target weight my work isn’t over; a facet of it is.  A milestone to celebrate, sure. An important check in the box on my recovery list. But a finality to recovery it is not.

I can walk up to my lane and throw a strike. Would I pause to soak up the cheers from my teammates and myself? Absolutely. But would I then grab my stuff and go home? Hopefully not — especially if I ever wanted my friends to invite me again. I enjoy my moment but I finish my game.

Weight restore but finish your game.

4. You need teammates.

If I wanted to go bowling I gather a group. People that I know would bowl well with me, maybe even people with more experience than I have if I’m not a great bowler just yet. I know I couldn’t set up a lane and expect to stand in and take the turns of the players all by myself.

Bowling isn’t a solitary sport anymore than recovery is a solitary process. Find your teammates. Heck, get team jackets. But don’t play all by yourself.

5. Progress not perfection.

That glaring perfectionism trait that fostered the growth of my eating disorder becomes one that inhibits recovery. My expectation to move through recovery fluidly and always forward weighs down the process. The one-and-done mentality that my perfectionism demands isn’t very congruent to any part of real life, but especially not with recovery. I’m setting myself up for a lot of frustration and on a trajectory for failure.

You have to bowl quite a few frames to feel comfortable in the motions. Except the shoes — you’ll probably never feel comfortable in those. Regardless of how practiced and confident you are standing in front of the pins, there will be off days. Days that your footing isn’t right or you can’t seem to get the right grip on the ball. But that doesn’t mean the muscle memory you’ve trained for is lost.

A day of lower performance isn’t a sign you no longer know how to play the game. Every roll can’t be a strike. If you miss the pins today it doesn’t mean you’ve never hit them before. It just means you missed them today.

So much of recovery is focused on learning to be comfortable with so many things I’ve willed myself to be make as uncomfortable as possible. Progress is made when I continue to confront these things over and over until I can dissipate the fear I associated with it. At the beginning it’s a gargantuan task because it’s all day every day, but the more I face each fear the more comfortable and learned it becomes. And no matter how far I get into recovery, I’m still confronted with off days. It’s so easy to convince myself that these off days are regression, as if I suddenly have to relearn everything again. Recovery is not a linear process. Few things in life are, so this is good practice.

In recovery, you will have off days. Unexplainable and unsettling, but present none the less. Progress is made with repetition and the grace in allowing that to come in all forms.

Take pride in your progress and allow the angular path it took you to get there to be a little less important. On your off days, remember you still have the muscle memory to throw a strike. Nothing erases your progress.

A version of this story originally appeared on

Photo credit: scaliger/Getty Images

Originally published: August 9, 2019
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